BRAZIL — While the entire world has been suffering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s impossible to deny that the people of Brazil have seen worse than most. Reports show that the outbreak of coronavirus in Brazil has been the world’s second-worst, resulting in more than 133,000 deaths and more than four million documented cases. While there has been some positive change at a government level, the crisis at a macro level is still dire.
President Jair Bolsonaro’s borderline denial of the crisis has likely made the situation worse. Back in June, the numbers were different. However, one study estimated that the infection count was much larger than the government was admitting. As a result, a court order forced the government to release infection data that it had been hiding. This is an important win for transparency, but it’s only a first step towards improving the government’s public health response.
Impoverished Brazilians Are the Most Impacted
What has not been as widely discussed, however, is that the epidemic is having a much larger impact on the impoverished people of Brazil. Structural inequality has long been a fixture of Brazilian society. As a result, the public health system has been far from equipped to handle the crisis. A severe lack of hospital beds and testing kits combined with an underwhelming response by the government has had deadly consequences.
In certain favelas, Brazilians “are dying at a rate that’s about three times higher” than that of wealthy neighborhoods. It’s also important to remember that racism is a factor as well, considering that these favelas are largely home to black residents. Black residents of Sáo Paulo alone have a 62% higher chance of dying of the coronavirus than white residents. It’s undeniable that the coronavirus in Brazil is having an outsized impact on marginalized Brazilians. In the face of apathy from officials, many of the people living in poverty have had to take action themselves.
In the absence of a meaningful government response, local activists in these impoverished favelas have taken it upon themselves to organize their communities. Residents of favelas have long been forced to create parallel systems when public services have let them down; this is an extension of that long history. Together, they’ve taken action to protect their collective health and to fill the role that the government has failed to.
Backed by resident’s associations, “street presidents” have worked to provide food services along with homemade masks and isolation wards. They’ve also used the internet in a variety of unique ways, from producing and distributing safety videos to creating a financial aid platform. More than one community has crowdfunded private ambulance services after their emergency calls to the government fell on deaf ears.
Organizations, like the Brazil Foundation, are trying to raise money and awareness for those suffering in Brazil. The Brazil Foundation has raised more than R$ 11.012.577 so far. It is also working to raise awareness of the social inequalities the country faces.
While these acts of solidarity are commendable, they should never have been necessary in the first place. It’s not the poor’s responsibility to take care of themselves in the absence of functional government. The best option for the government to fight coronavirus in Brazil would be to dramatically reevaluate the policies that have led it to this point. These policies need to include not only public health and the coronavirus but also the economic policies that led them to this moment in the first place.
– Aidan O’Halloran